On June 16, 2016, the National Endowment for Democracy hosted His Holiness the Dalai Lama for a public conversation with four dynamic young democracy activists. The afternoon included remarks from House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senator Dianne Feinstein, NED Board member Congressman Peter Roskam, and noted activist and actor Richard Gere.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama is well-known as the spiritual leader of the Tibetan people. He is less well known as a dedicated advocate for the principles of democracy and for the political reforms he introduced when he gave up his role as political leader of the Tibetan people, devolving political power to the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), the elected government in exile. The Dalai Lama has often said that opposing totalitarianism is not enough, and that it is also necessary to offer a democratic alternative.
Following the presentation, His Holiness the Dalai Lama responded to questions from four dynamic young democracy activists: Azeri journalist Arzu Geybullayeva, Cuban activist Rosa Maria Payá, Sudanese activist Azaz Elshami, and Jordanian activist Rami Soud. The discussion, which was moderated by Brian Joseph, NED Senior Director for Asia and Global Programs, focused on the themes of maintaining hope and tolerance in the face of repression and hate, and fostering youth leadership under difficult conditions.
His Holiness answered the questions posed by the youth activists with his characteristic wisdom and wit. Payá – whose father, a prominent Cuban activist, was killed in 2012 – asked about finding the balance between forgiveness and justice. His Holiness was quick to clarify that “forgiveness does not mean you accept others’ wrongdoing,” and that sometimes we need to act, “but without anger.”
NED also took the opportunity to honor the continuing struggle of the Tibetan people by making a posthumous award of the Democracy Service Medal to the late Tibetan Buddhist Monk Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, a prominent Tibetan political prisoner who died under questionable circumstances last year in a Chinese prison.
According to Human Rights Watch, Tenzin Delek’s imprisonment in 2002 was the culmination of a decade-long effort by Chinese authorities to curb his efforts to foster Tibetan Buddhism. Tenzin Delek was an inspiration for Tibetans struggling to retain their cultural identity in the face of China’s harsh policies. The Medal was accepted on his behalf by his cousin, Geshe Jamyang Nyima. NED president Gershman described Tenzin Delek as a “moral force” and a “living symbol of Tibetans’ indomitable spirit and their deeply rooted, invincible faith and identity.”
Following Medal presentation, NED Chairman Martin Frost presented a plaque that featured the preamble to the US Constitution side by side with an excerpt from the CTA Constitution. This symbol of democratic solidarity with the Tibetan people was received by Sikyong Lobsang Sangay, the democratically elected leader of the CTA. The CTA assumed full responsibility for the Tibetan government in exile after the Dalai Lama devolved his political authority in 2011.